In its wonderfully diverse landscape, America is pretty much unrivalled. There are few other countries in which you can see mountains, deserts, turquoise beaches, lush forests, glaciers and still be close to civilisation and a thriving cultural scene.
Home to several National Parks, from the deserts of Nevada to the lush volcanic Yellowstone, and from iconic cities such as the cool and cosmopolitan New York to the beating heart of Las Vegas, America is a land of discovery and adventure.
Exploring the City with Kids ~ Tips for a Memorable New York Getaway Friendly people, staggering scenery, and nominal landmarks are just some of the things you are guaranteed to discover when travelling in the US of A.
Many people consider a trip to America to be the trip of a lifetime, and getting everything you want to see into your itinerary can take weeks. Months, even. We know!
Whether you choose to hire a car and drive Route ’66, hitchhike à la Holly from Lou Reed’s ‘Wild Side’, or join an organised tour such as those created by Grand American Adventures, you can be sure that as well as some of the more obvious choices, you will encounter some overlooked destinations.
Overlooked destinations in America
OK, this is a whole state, and OK, it is not entirely overlooked. Even the Simpsons have been there, but Alaska is sometimes relegated to ‘other’ because of its location.
It is the largest and most sparsely populated of US states with a huge diversity, both culturally and in its landscape. Known for its salmon fishing, Alaska and water sports are pretty synonymous: kayaking, spear fishing and white water rafting to name a few.
Alaska is great for whale watching in the right season, as well as canoeing in some of the clearest glacier waters.
Beautiful wilderness and of course the fun husky rides are some of the key features of trips to Alaska, and since it is so vast and diverse, we recommend taking a couple of weeks to really acclimatise and discover everything this stunning scenery has to offer. Speeding past miles of glacier on a dog sled is sure to create a lifelong memory of this unique and majestic state.
Like Alaska, Hawaii is sometimes a forgotten part of the US, and it has so much more to offer than the usual spots of Honolulu and Waikiki. At Pahoa lies the world’s most active volcano. A curtain of fire belches from the belly of the earth, which can be viewed at the bottom of the volcano, in its skirts.
This is an adventure that requires some stamina, and is not for the faint hearted. It’ll get hot, windy and arduous at times, but seeing something so unique is a once in a lifetime opportunity on a Hawaii vacation.
Portland – underground smuggler’s tunnels
Known as Shanghai Tunnels, this series of underground networks in Portland, Oregon are just one of its many attractions as an offbeat, alternative place to visit. Interconnected tunnels lying underneath the city are also all connected to the docks, meaning that ship’s cargo could be protected from savage weather.
However, there was a grimy underbelly that operated in the tunnels back in the 1840s – until around 1941, during World War II. The term ‘Shanghai’ was used to describe a process by which men were captured and sold to crew on boats.
Often, the techniques used were underhand, such as drugging them with opium or waiting until they were inebriated and could be dragged through the underground tunnels to the ship’s captain.
Women were advised not to walk alone in these areas too, where the kidnapping of several daughters was documented. Accessible by foot, there are tours of the tunnels at weekends.
Rush, Ghost Town, Arkansas
Historically a town that flourished as zinc mining capital, Rush is a ghost town that shows the decline of mining in Arkansas. Officially declared a ghost town in the seventies, it has become a part of the Buffalo River National Park, and as such, the buildings and mines are maintained by the Park Service.
However, the mines could still be dangerous and visitors are not permitted to enter them. You can, however trek a trail around them and visit the surrounding houses, which are all eerily empty.
Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska
If the original Stonehenge in England isn’t curious enough, then this replica made by artist Jim Reinders sure is. Fascinated by the mystery of Stonehenge, Reinders used a series of cars to recreate the structure in metal.
First erected in 1982, the sculpture has attracted people to an otherwise overlooked area of the great plains. Anyone can visit the site any time of day, although the imposing silhouettes at dusk make for interesting photography.
Nearby, there is also a cute frontier town, which depicts life in Nebraska some 150 years ago, mixing the modern with history.
Devil’s Kettle, Minnesota
An aquatic mystery and beautiful waterfall lies within Judge Magney State Park in Minnesota. Viewed from the top, it appears like any natural waterfall, and yet half of the water cascades 50 feet down into the Brule River, to end up forming part of Lake Superior.
However, the mysterious part is what happens to the other half, which falls into a sort of ‘cauldron’ basin and ultimately disappears. People have tried putting dye into the potholes to track where the water goes, but its ultimate destination has never been discovered, earning it the name Devil’s Kettle.
Apostle Island Sea Caves, Wisconsin
In summertime, this incredible network of underground caverns can be explored by foot, underneath Lake Superior. But what happens in winter when they become temples of ice is truly unforgettable.
When the lake freezes over, its caves underneath also freeze, forming amazing icicles along the cave walls. A trek through the ice caves can be arranges during the winter months, although it is best to check with the Apostle Island Park Service whether it has been cold enough for the lake to freeze over sufficiently.
Similar to the concept of cherry blossoms in Japan, the ice caves are revered for their fleeting appearance, and need to be caught at just the right time.
Your first inclination is obvious: “why do I need to worry about bringing food back from Europe? It’s not like I’m visiting any third-world countries it’ll be fine!” Indeed, that’s what many Americans think.
Europe To America
The reality is a little more complicated than judging the safety of food importation based on the GDP of the country of origin.
In 2007 alone U.S. customs officials seized 4,300 items from airline passengers and other visitors unaware of current regulations regarding the bringing of certain plant and animal products across the border.
Many of those seized items were European in origin, no doubt ranging in expense from a candy apple to a wheel of Brie. It’s important to know what you can bring back BEFORE you buy it.
The vacation in France or time spent in Italy almost always comes with the assumption that a bottle of wine can be brought back.
Wine, along with most liquor, is generally acceptable to bring back without incident, though travelers are limited to one liter each.
In general baked and processed goods are safe to bring back that includes most packaged chocolates and snack foods.
Jarred items, things that are pickled or preserved or overall lack the environment for dangerous pathogens to breed in are for the most part acceptable.
The government concerns itself primarily with making sure that dietary staples such as cheese, meat, and potatoes are not grown or processed in conditions that are drastically different than those under U.S. standards.
The higher the risk a product has for contamination IE the rawness or lack of proper packaging, the more likely officials are going to reject it.
That means most moist cheeses, cured meats, and the majority of raw produce.
In Europe these items can be tantalizing gifts for those back at home.
They can also be incredibly expensive.
You certainly want to make sure that you don’t purchase $100.00 worth of Hungarian salami only to be forced to throw it away when you enter customs.
It’s worth noting that you should never attempt to deceive customs officials. The penalties can fines as high as $10,000 depending on what you tried to sneak into the country.
When in doubt, consider the following: Before you depart, consult the USDA website on the issue.
Once you are in Europe, revisit the guidelines the government makes available to you before making a purchase.
Upon your return, if you suspect you may have brought back something that is illegal, make sure you make customs officials aware of the situation.
If you’ve set aside a fund for food to bring back, do the right research – it’ll save you money when you’re traveling and heartbreak when you return – enjoy Europe! 😉